I’ve been taking a free course at Biola Learn , on Spiritual Formation and the temptations of moralism. It’s part of God’s recent dealings with me to dismantle unhealthy patterns of relating to Him, and to replace them with a more grace filled, spirit empowered, cross-entered faith.
Anyway, as part of the course there are these assignments called “Prayer Projects”. You are instructed to find a quiet place and pray through particular issues over a set period of time. It’s a practice that is surprisingly new to me….
But I love it!!!
You’re given a bunch of topics to pray through systematically, and encouraged to spend extended time in God’s presence processing the material.
Because the lecturers expected ‘Prayer Projects’ to be new to most of the participants, they gave us some fantastic Q&A guidelines. Here is one of the Questions with an Answer that I found particularly insightful. I’m sharing because I think it helps address the many feelings of guilt and obstacles to spending long times with God in prayer.
What might I experience during my Prayer Project?
At the outset, it is important that the Spirit governs the encounter in prayer, and as such each experience will vary. That said, here are some common occurrences that happen during Prayer Projects and how you might respond to them:
Consolation/Joy – This is when you experience a deep sense of joy, of being loved, of being at peace in the presence of God. This is a real gift from the Lord – cherish it! No guidance is necessary for this – the Lord will direct your heart.
Distraction – So very common for all of us in prayer. We start to pray about one topic but find our hearts and minds wandering elsewhere. This is an opportunity to ask the Lord what He wants to do with that thought. You don’t have to try to resist it. Rather, mention it to the Lord in your prayer. (Example: “Lord, I find my mind wandering to ____. What would You want me to do with this?”) Then see how He responds. In general, it is worth staying with the original prayer topic unless you experience a strong sense that you should pursue this new thought.
Fatigue – You might feel tired in prayer, even to the point of falling asleep. If this happens, and you realize that you have been asleep, pay attention to the feelings that arise in your heart as you awake. Talk with God about those feelings, whether they be gratitude at the gift of rest or anxiety about having fallen asleep on Him. This is your honest experience in prayer, and even this can become a topic for conversation with God.
Guilt, Shame, Anxiety – You may experience guilt, shame, or anxiety over what you’re praying about. This is particularly so if you’re praying about something that has been hidden in your heart, something you may not have talked about before. What is most important to remember during these times is that you are completely loved by God just as you are, regardless of whether you feel that or not. The temptation is to hide our guilt and shame and pretend it doesn’t exist. Or we might panic before God and try desperately to get Him to reassure us that we’re okay. You are encouraged instead to name your feelings to God. If you’re feeling guilty, ashamed, or anxious, tell God exactly that. Trust that if He has brought those feelings up, then He wants to meet you in them. He is using them not to condemn you, but to draw closer to you.
Despair/Darkness – You may have times when you feel like God is distant, like your prayer life is dark. Or you may be tempted to despair, to think that God is not listening to you or is not even present. You may feel so overwhelmed by your spiritual failure that you think that your situation is hopeless. These can be very hard and painful times in prayer. If you are able, continue to pray. Name what you’re feeling to God. Tell Him about the darkness and distance and despair.
Note: You might reach a point where the darkness feels too overwhelming for you and that it feels too difficult to go on in prayer. If you reach this point, then pull back. You may stop your prayer at this point. Find a passage of Scripture instead, especially one reminding you of the love of God (e.g., Psalm 139:1-18, Romans 5 or 8) and read it for the remainder of the prayer time. Please also contact a trusted spiritual advisor, such as your pastor, small group leader, or mentor and tell him or her what you are experiencing. Allow this person to offer you more specific encouragement and guidance for your situation.
For more information please visit: Biola Learn: https://www.biola.edu/learn/catalog